“HAYDEN CLARKE. GOOD TO SEE you again.” Doc rises from behind his desk and extends his hand to me. He’s a tall, robust man with a grey beard. Dressed in khaki trousers and a navy jumper, he is the perfect cliché shrink.
I give him a firm, confident shake, trying to portray my entire state of mind with one simple gesture. “Hiya, Doc.”
“Please sit. I’ve been looking forward to this appointment for weeks.” He gestures to one of the maroon leather armchairs and takes the one seated directly across from it.
I drop down onto the familiar seat and rest my ankle on my knee. “You probably say that to all your patients.”
“I wish I could, Hayden. I wish I could.” Instead of grabbing his notepad like he normally does, he crosses his arms over his chest and eyes me speculatively. “Tell me, how are you feeling with your one-year anniversary approaching?”
He dives right in. Every time. “I’m feeling fine. I’m focusing on preparing my speech for the charity gala, as you well know.”
“Yes, that’s right. Are you still confident about speaking? It’s a sensitive subject matter.” He cocks his head to the side like he can see the answer if he looks at me hard enough.
Glimpses of the night I wish like hell I could forget flash through my mind. I straighten my posture and mindlessly touch my brown leather cuffs on each of my wrists. “Definitely confident. I can handle it,” I answer pragmatically.
A look of fondness lights up his features. “I think it will be a big turning point for you, Hayden. I really do.”
“That’s sort of the point.” I release the cuffs and rub my hands down my denim-clad thighs. “I’m ready to get on with my life. The last few days, I can’t seem to stop thinking about the days leading up to that night.”
He nods thoughtfully. “That is expected given that the anniversary is only days away. What are you doing to continue progressing in your recovery beyond the charity gala? Who are you spending your days with?”
I shrug my shoulders and frown. “Leslie, Theo, and Baby Marisa mostly.”
His brows arch. “Anyone outside of your family?”
I clench my jaw because he’s asking a question he already knows the answer to and it irks me. “Not really. I help out with the baby a lot, and I’m back working with my brother again. We’re busy.” The truth is I don’t have many friends left after spending the last four years drinking my life away. And eventually trying to take my life.
“Any word from Reyna?”
My eyes cloud over at the mention of her name. “She texts occasionally. I don’t really engage much with her.”
He simply nods and I let out an exasperated laugh. “We’ve already established that she’s not a good friend for me to lean on. Now you want me to go out and make new friends? How am I supposed to know what kind of friends are safe?” I challenge him.
“Hayden, it’s not about making friends. It’s about putting yourself out there. There are lots of people you can converse with who wouldn’t be anything like what Reyna was to you. I’m just noticing a pattern here. You’ve lived with your brother, his fiancée, and their new baby for three months now. You don’t appear to be showing an effort to intermingle with people outside of your family, to become a part of society once again.”
“I disagree with you,” I jeer, slicing my hand through my hair. “I’m getting up in front of hundreds of people to tell my entire bloody story. That seems like the definition of putting myself out there.”
Doc smirks and nods again, which only further frustrates me. I stand up and stride over to the window to gaze down at the busy west end London traffic. A red double-decker bus full of tourists passes by. I’d give anything to be out there as a foreigner on holiday and oblivious to the shit that goes on in here.
“So, what then? You don’t think my speech will be much of a challenge?” I snap, looking over my shoulder at him.
“I didn’t say that.” He sighs heavily and narrows his eyes at me, obviously gauging my temper.
“I’m reading between the lines.” I like Doc because he doesn’t bullshit me, but I get tired of having to find all the answers myself. Him questioning my recovery makes me feel insecure at a time when I’m desperate to prove to everyone that I’m not the same person. “Come on now. Out with it, Doc. Tell me one thing that would be more challenging.”
“Look, Hayden. You’ve done the twelve steps. You’ve told your story in group therapy. You’re staying clean. These are all good things, so let’s focus on them.”
I walk back to my seat. “Don’t hold back on me now, Doc. Come on! Challenge me,” I dare, tossing my hands out wide as I sit down. I always did love a challenge.
He shrugs his shoulders like he expected my reaction. “What if I asked you to tell your story to a single person? Not a room full of others in therapy. Not a ballroom full of people. Not a family member or close friend. Rather, an acquaintance. Telling your story to an audience full of strangers is one thing. But finding someone whom you can sit down with, look in the eyes, and tell your story to is another completely. The point is you would not just be talking at them. You’d be engaging with them. They’d likely have questions and comments, and you’d have to field them all with an open mind.”
“And you think that’s the ultimate challenge,” I scoff arrogantly but feel a churning in my abdomen over the idea.
Doc shrugs. “You said you’ve been recalling the days leading up to your attempt?”
“Yeah,” I reply, grimacing at where he’s going with this.
“All right. Let’s try this. Find one person and tell them about the five days you experienced leading up to your attempt. Be honest. Be open. Be vulnerable. It will be difficult and it will pull you back to that time, but getting it out will be the ultimate test to your recovery. We’ll call it the Countdown Challenge.”
“Bloody hell,” I snap. “I thought that’s why I am doing my big gala speech. To test myself. To push my recovery.”
“You’re doing that speech for many reasons, Hayden—one of which is for your family. It is a benefit they began for you after all. But both of these challenges will push you in different ways.” He pauses, scratching his beard as he attempts to collect his thoughts. “Let me ask you this. Do you remember how important Leslie felt to you the day she found you?”
I nod, wincing at the flashback that blasts through my mind’s eye.
“She was important because you didn’t know her well. She wasn’t someone close to you, so you believed her intentions. Sharing your truth with someone new to you would be a very similar experience. It could be incredibly enlightening.”
I huff, “And how will I find someone?”
Doc grins. “You’re a charming bloke. I’m sure you’ll find someone.”